February 27, 2010

Summarizing As a Communication Tool

As managers, we need to create the best interactions with our employees as we can. Understanding each other needs to be the goal, after which, everything else follows…

When we speak to each other, it’s inevitable that what is said, sometimes, maybe even often, is misunderstood, so when a message needs to be very clear, steps need to be taken to clarify it.

One excellent tactic to use is to get the person you are talking to summarize what they have heard back to you and then refine their understanding if it doesn’t match yours.

Nothing upsets employees more than when they take a course of action they believe is expected of them and they then find it wasn’t right.

By ensuring that you get them to summarize, you give them the opportunity to tell you exactly what their interpretation of the situation is. It’s how their brain has perceived the agreement and their words make that clear.

You can then tell if they have ‘got it’ as you expected, or explain the differences if needed.

Now, even then there might be a little difference in your interpretation of their words, but it’s a lot closer than it was without them summarizing.

There’s another point here too. Believe it or not, however great a manager you are, often your people will be intimidated by you, as the ‘boss’, so they will go along with what you say, meekly nodding in agreement.

If you don’t have them tell you what it is they are agreeing to, they might well leave the conversation with hardly a clue about what you really want.

Engaging in a ‘summarizing’ conversation helps them recognize that you are going to want feedback on their understanding so if they aren’t clear, they are much more likely to ask questions to help them ‘get it’ as the relationship progresses in the future.

Whilst it might sound a little cumbersome as a process, when you try it out a few times, you will find that summarizing simply becomes another part of the conversation you have. The sign that it’s working well comes when they summarize back for you without you needing to ask at all!

You have made a clear instruction; they have summarized what they have heard; you sign that off and just keep a distant, watchful eye to help them make it happen how you want it too.

It’s all part of pulling together and making the workplace much more effective and efficient.

With this comes the genuine interactions that develop a team which really is able to be much more productive overall.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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